Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Notes from Lyon: Observations on the Quais du Polar festival

Quais du Polar


First published in the Sunday Times

She had henna in her hair and, it seemed, on her lower incisors. Her husband had on a leather jacket and what appeared to be a snatch of a sheepskin car seat cover on his head. He looked like a woolly butcher. They had travelled to Lyon from Nice, they said, as part of an “association”, a fan club, for James Lee Burke. There was to be a video link-up with him in the States and the association didn’t miss any opportunity to hear their hero. They’d even travelled to Louisiana once to visit the sites of his Dave Robicheaux novels.

Such are the fans who stream into the city for the annual Quais du Polar festival – just on 80 000 this year. “Polar” is the French idiom for crime writing and the genre is huge there. Dozens of panel discussions, exhibitions and film screenings are spread out across the town centre between the Saône and Rhône rivers. At the famous police academy, French CSI officers mocked up a crime scene and invited the public to watch them “work” it. On the Saturday, scores of fans spent the morning criss-crossing the city following clues to solve a murder mystery.

The venues for the events are splendid. The Opéra, the city hall, the 17th-century Chapelle de la Trinité are buildings of ravishing beauty, filled with luminous paintings and blazing chandeliers. The heart of the festival is the vast marble hall of the Chambre de Commerce, where independent booksellers set up their stands. The featured writers are divided up between the stands for all-day signings, and this is what people love most about QdP: the access to authors.

Quais du Polar
Quais du Polar

The Paris book festival, I was told, is bigger but expensive and snobby. Here authors endlessly sign, chat and pose for selfies. Here’s Jo Nesbo, slight and goateed; Anthony Horowitz; a mad-haired Sophie Hannah and, over there, under an ornate statue, Deon Meyer is being genteelly mobbed. Franck Thilliez, who slipped quietly into the Franschhoek festival last year, is a rock star at home, surrounded everywhere he walks by beaming fans. There are lesser-known gems to be found, too. Nigerian author Leye Adenle was sharp on panel discussions, as was Gabonese author Janis Otsiemi and South African writer Michéle Rowe who was dubbed, naturally, “the new Deon Meyer”.

With simultaneous translation at every event, there were no barriers. Publishers talked about finding new talent: “We publish authors, not books . Find a writer and gradually build their career.” Translators described their difficulties: “Get a word wrong and it is like a grain of sand in an engine. It will ruin the narrative.”

One of the panel discussions turned to the depressingly universal problem of the Youth and Reading and the encouragement thereof. A teacher took her pupils on a river rafting trip with an author, said one panellist. Another suggested slam sessions of classic works. In front of me a young woman was bent over her cellphone, intent on taking notes on the session. I looked closer and saw, instead, that she was on Tinder. Plus ça change, as they say.

Follow Michele Magwood on Twitter @michelemagwood

Magwood was a guest of the French Institute of South Africa and the Quais du Polar Festival

Don't miss the launch of The Disruptors: Social Entrepreneurs Reinventing Business and Society

Invitation to the launch of The Disruptors: Social Entrepreneurs Reinventing Business And Society

The Disruptors: Social Entrepreneurs Reinventing Business And SocietyThe UJ Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Social Economy (CSESE) and the UJ Library in partnership with Bookstorm Publishers invite you to a discussion with Kerryn Krige and Gus Silber the authors of The Disruptors: Social Entrepreneurs Reinventing Business and Society.

The event will take place at the University of Johannesburg on Thursday, 12 May.

The authors will be joined Adelaide Sheik of CSESE.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 12 May 2016
  • Time: 4:30 PM for 5:00 PM
  • Venue: APK Library Auditorium
    Cnr Kingsway & University Road
    Auckland Park
    Johannesburg | Map
  • Panelist: Adelaide Sheik
  • RSVP: Theodorah Modise,, 011 559 2264

Book Details

Celebrate Brenda Fassie 12 years after her death with Bongani Madondo at the first Newtown Junction Literary Evening

I'm Not Your Weekend Special: Portraits on the Life + Style and Politics of Brenda FassieNewtown Junction and Picador Africa invite you to a book reading and discussion of I’m Not Your Weekend Special: Portraits on the Life + Style and Politics of Brenda Fassie by Bongani Madondo.

Join them in honouring the great MaBrrr and marking 12 years since her death.

Madondo will be reading from his book and interviewing contributors and other friends of MaBrrr. Come and hear stories from those who knew and loved her and share a glass of wine and great music at the first of our Newtown Junction Literary Evenings.

Like Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Miriam Makeba, Brenda’s music will always be in our lives. We will smile when we think of her. South Africa will never be the same without her.

- From the Foreword by Hugh Masekela

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 05 May 2016
  • Time: 6:30 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Newtown Junction Mall
    Miriam Makeba and President Streets
    Johannesburg | Map
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine

Related stories:

Book Details

Book Launch: Fordsburg Fighter: The journey of an MK volunteer by Amin Cajee, with Terry Bell

Fordsburg Fighter: The journey of an MK volunteerSee the launch dates for this new title from face2face books.

[Cajee] chose life over death. We should be grateful to him that he chose to live. Dead men can tell no stories

– Jacob Dlamini, author of Askari

Event Details

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, May 19 2016
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Book Lounge, 71 Roeland Street, Cape Town
  • Guest Speaker: Marianne Thamm
  • RSVP:
  • More information: Cover2Cover

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 25 May 2016
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Lekgotla, Constitution Hill, 11 Kotze Street, Johannesburg
  • Guest Speaker: Mavuso Msimang
  • RSVP:
  • More information: Cover2Cover

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 2 June 2016
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Ike’s Books, 234 4th Road, Durban
  • Guest Speaker: Terry Bell
  • RSVP:
  • More information: Cover2Cover

Book Details

Don't the launches of sangoma Unathi Magubeni's debut novel Nwelezelanga: The Star Child

Invitation to the launch of Nwelezelanga: The Star Child
Invitation to the launch of Nwelezelanga: The Star Child

Nwelezelanga: The Star ChildJacana Media and BlackBird Books invite you to two launches of Unathi Magubeni’s debut novel, Nwelezelanga: The Star Child.

Magubeni is a writer, sangoma and trainee herbalist. He left the corporate world in December 2009 after successfully starting a company in telecommunication with two friends. He currently lives in the Eastern Cape. His first book, Food For Thought, a collection of poetry, was published in 2003.

The launches will take place in Tlokwe and Johannesburg.

See you there!


Events Details: Tlokwe

Events Details: Johannesburg

Book Details

Don't miss the launch of Dorothea Bleek: A Life of Scholarship by Jill Weintroub at Kalk Bay Books

Dorothea Bleek: A Life of ScholarshipWits University Press and Kalk Bay Books invite you to the launch of Jill Weintroub’s new book Dorothea Bleek: A Life of Scholarship.

Dorothea Bleek was an adventurer and researcher travelling across southern Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Driven by intellectual curiosity she was a rock art researcher of note who continued and affirmed the legacy of her father and aunt’s research, known as the Bleek and Lloyd Collection, on the ǀXam bushmen.

When she started her research, biographer Jill Weintroub found a great silence around Dorothea. Why had so little been said or written about her? Why was she the one labelled as “racist” while Lucy Lloyd and Wilhelm Bleek were celebrated as liberal thinkers ahead of their time? Was there nothing more that could be said about Dorothea’s life?

Join Weintroub and Michael Wessels, author of Bushman Letters and Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of the Western Cape, at Kalk Bay Books where they will discuss how researchers navigate the complex legacies of their subjects.

Miss Bleek has been engaged for some time in compiling a dictionary in five languages, all Khoi-San dialects. When she speaks in these tongues it sounds like high-powered knitting needles on low throttle, just clicking over.

- Dorothea Bleek being introduced in a column in the Cape Times, 26, April 1946, announcing a talk on rock art reproductions she was to present

Event Details

Book Details